W2W4 When Alabama is on Offense against West Virginia
I don’t know about you but it seems to me this off-season just flew by. Wasn’t it only yesterday that we were wringing our hands after A-Day, praying that Jacob Coker’s transfer would come thru? Months later, Coker’s transfer came thru but Alabama’s questions at QB remain unanswered.
A few years ago, AJ McCarron was battling highly touted Phillip Sims and the competition went thru fall camp and into the first game of the season. During the first game of the season, it was quickly evident that the game was moving way too fast for Sims while McCarron seemed at ease in the pocket. The hope here is that after a couple of games this season either Sims or Coker emerges as the clear leader at the QB position. However, I’m not really sure that’s going to happen.
For reasons that require far more than this space, I think you’ll find that each QB brings something positive and something negative at the position. If you are a golfer, think of being on the tee box on a tight fairway and making a choice between your five iron (Sims) or your driver (Coker). You won’t eagle or birdie with Sims but you won’t get into big trouble either. With Coker you can drive the green….or lose your ball in British Open style rough. Both have positives. Both have negatives. Decisions, decisions. But this is why Nick gets paid 7 mil a year, right???
Yeah, yeah – QB battle blah, blah, blah. What will we see on Saturday? Well, first off, after the victory, I won’t be burning my couch like a West Virginian. After our victory Saturday night, I just plan to apply a little friction on mine, if you know what I mean! Here’s what else I’ll be looking forward to on Saturday…
Sims: Blake Sims will start. Look for short, quick throws to get him into rhythm to start the game. Think WR screens, hitch routes and bootlegs to provide passing lanes for his 6’0 tall frame. His arm strength will surprise you and if he’s throwing to a relatively stationary target, he’ll surprsingly be on target. Where he struggles is in leading receivers on posts, corners and deep in routes. I’ve heard he’s also struggled mightily with simple five yard out routes. I do think the offense will move well with Sims but if it gets to be third and long, close your eyes.
Coker: First off, his size will impress you. Second, his arm will wow you! Expect Coker to make some throws that lead you to say, “Damn, he’s THE guy!” But, expect him to hold the ball too long and take unnecessary sacks, making you say, “Damn. He’s the guy?” Vertical routes, deep corner routes and post routes will all be in play. Deep ins, deep outs, and pretty much any deep throws will be impressive…if he can make the read and deliver the football. Lastly, expect him to bail on the pocket and run more than Sims does which will frustrate me to no end.
Alabama is expected to ground and pound the little Mountaineers all night long and I think that’s exactly what the Tide will do. With that being the case, everyone wants to know if Derrick Henry will surpass TJ Yeldon as the lead back and the simple answer is no. Yeldon has earned the trust of the staff and he’ll continue to get the majority of the first and second down carries with Henry spelling him about 40% of the time. On third downs, I believe Kenyan Drake will be used as a weapon out of the backfield. I mean Drake in the open field would be a nightmare and word on the street is that Kiffin thinks he can use The Drake like he used Reggie Bush.
Also, I’m VERY intrigued to see how Jalston Fowler will be used at FB. If Fowler is in at FB, then is Vogler also in as the lone TE? Or is OJ Howard on the field with Fowler in the same formation? Contrary to popular belief, the tape says that Nudie Fowler is NOT a powerful lead blocker (even though you’d think he would be). In the I-formation sets last year, we failed to run the ball effectively and I’m not positive that using Fowler in the I-formation instead of using Howard, Christion Jones or Chris Black in the one back and three wide formation is the best usage of our personnel. Kiffin is a FB guy so it’s really, really interesting to me to see how he uses Fowler. I can’t emphasize this enough – if Fowler is in, then Howard, Black or Jones will not be on the field and if he’s not a good lead blocker then what exactly is the point of the I-formation and the use of the FB???
It will be a shame to have so much freakish talent at the WR position and not have anyone who can get them the damn ball. WR screens, quick hitches and go routes will be the order of the day (or night) on Saturday, I believe. Hitches and screens are easy throws and if you make a mistake on a bomb then it’s simply a 40 yard punt, right? I’m very interested to see how Amari Cooper is used as Kiffin loves to configure his offenses to make sure he gets the ball out to his playmakers. In 2012, Marquise Lee hauled in 118 catches for 1721 yards and 14 touchdowns so it stands to reason that Cooper could be HUGE this season. Now, granted, Lee had a better QB who could get him the ball, but Lee’s ridiculous stats should give you an idea of how Kiffin likes to get the ball to his playmakers.
Oh, I do love me some DeAndrew White and he always seems to be the forgotten man in this conversation. Look for at least two deep shots to him Saturday night because, again, the down side is negligible if either Coker or Sims throws a pick.
As for the slot receiver, I have to wonder if Chris Black get any chances? I sure hope so but remember that Christion Jones is still in front of him and Jones is a playmaker in his own right. With Cooper, Howard and the expected multiple throws to the backs, I kind of doubt either Jones or Black will have much of an impact in this game.
Tight End Usage
So you should know that Kiffin likes to use his FBs and his TEs, so it will be interesting to see which formations he leans on the most throughout the game. The favored formation of a Nick Saban offense has typically been using one tight end with three wide receivers so my question is who the one TE will be in that formation. Vogler is the much better blocker but if Vogler is in, then OJ Howard is on the bench (in this formation). If they use two TEs (a favorite formation of Kiffin), then Howard could also be used as a slot receiver which would present a pretty interesting dilemma for the defense. Bama fans such as myself have been clamoring for Howard to be utilized more so I’ll be watching to see how often Howard is on the field as the lone TE in the formation. If history is any indicator, I expect to be disappointed by the number of times Vogler is in the huddle while Howard is on the sidelines. Anything less than 4 catches for Howard will be very, very disappointing to me.
Offensive Line Rant
It’s time for the OL to step up and become the dominant force they are supposed to be on a Nick Saban team. Last year was Mario Cristobal’s first year as the OL coach and, to be blunt, the unit was very disappointing. Now he’s had an entire off season to shape up the big uglies so there should be no excuses this time around. Remember all the missed assignments and whiffs against Va Tech last year? They best not happen this year. No ‘scuses. WVU runs a 3-3-5 which presents a multitude of different blitz options and blocking issues but, again, there should be no excuses for anything less than a dominant performance by the line Saturday night.
True freshman Cameron Robinson is going to hold down the LT position and I suspect he’ll have a few growing pains Saturday night. If Kiffin is smart, he’ll give Robinson some help from either a tight end or a running back until big Cam gets his feet wet. Meanwhile, look for the right side of the line to provide a tremendous push as RG Alphonse “Shank” Taylor is a massive, massive human being and RT Austin Shepherd is a straight up gangsta mauler. If you see Vogler lined up next to these two wooly mammoths then you can rest assured we are running right.
Lastly, center Ryan Kelly needs to be much, much better than he was last year. He was wildly inconsistent last year and was outplayed by Chad Lindsey (with the exception of the Auburn game where Lindsey struggled mightily) after Kelly had to sit out due to an injury. With this being Kelly’s second year as the starting center, he’s the key element to the offensive line. He must…play…well. It will also be interesting to see how much big Leon Brown plays at RG, as he appeared to grade fairly well against Oklahoma in his Sugar Bowl start.
The word out of training camp is that Adam Griffith was five of five on his attempts at the last scrimmage, so things are looking up for the young kid. During the A-Day game, I’m not sure he couldn’t make five of five extra point kicks so this is a great turnaround. Remember, Griffith is truly a very talented kicker and there’s a reason they thought he could hit a 57 yard field goal last year against Auburn. I may be crazy but I’m actually very comfy with him as the kicker this season.
The Kiffin offense is going to look exactly like the Nussmeier offense which looked exactly like the McElwain offense. For those of you who are thinking you’ll be seeing anything different will be sorely mistaken. The differences on offense will be subtle with Kiffin looking to explore and expose individual matchups, which is why guys like Cooper, Howard and Drake are expected to get increased opportunities. However, don’t expect any schematic advantages to be prevalent Saturday night.
Alabama can easily win with Blake Sims running the read option and hitting little outs, hitches and screens to the wide receivers. However, he’s not an adept passer so the question is whether or not Alabama can develop Jacob Coker so that the offense can be multi-dimensional when it faces defenses from Florida, LSU and Mississippi State (yes, they have a good defense).
In looking at film of Coker last year, you can’t help but be impressed. However, he oftentimes held onto the ball too long as he looked to be a bit confused by the action taking place down the field. He knew the Florida State playbook so it’s not a question of him being confused by the playbook or the routes. Instead, he was getting lost in the myriad of players running around in the secondary and as a result he would hold onto the ball or simply bail from the pocket. I think the Bama staff thinks that he’ll stop holding onto the ball as he becomes more fluent in the Alabama playbook but I’m not really sure that’s going to happen. Eventually, the staff will have to decide if the negative plays that Coker takes can be something they can live with and if that answer is no then the answer is Sims.
I think 26 points is too big of a spread for a team that’s expected to ground and pound the rock all night long. Therefore, I like Alabama over WVU 31 to 10.